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  • Russian Pressure is Growing in Ukraine

    MOSCOW – Is the Obama Administration, busy pushing the “reset button” with Russia is about to suffer a geopolitical setback in Ukraine? When talking to the security experts here, it sure looks like it.

    Ukraine is the key to making Russia an empire and, some here believe, a superpower once again.

    In the run up to Ukrainian presidential elections in January 2010, the Kremlin has been ratcheting up pressure on President Victor Yushchenko, which Moscow regularly vilifies as pro-American and anti-Russian. .

    Ties between the two countries have increasingly frayed following the 2004 Orange Revolution, the 2006 and 2009 gas conflicts, and the war in Georgia last August. The relations have reached their lowest point in recent weeks, and there is a buzz in the Moscow policy elite of further mischief to come.

    The current tensions between the two countries were starkly illustrated by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s recent letter to the Ukrainian leadership.

    Medvedev accused Preisdent Yushchenko of a litany of anti- Russian abuses, including arms supplies to Georgia before the 2008 war. Medvedev has announced withholding the appointment of the new Russian Ambassador to Ukraine until more “positive dynamics” are reached in bilateral relations after the elections.

    A similar message was ominously conveyed in Medvedev’s presidential video blog. Standing on the balcony of his Black Sea residence in Sochi, with a war ship in the background, Medvedev delivered a stern message that resembled a threat of a war to come.

    This letter and the video address were clearly intended to undermine pro-Western forces in Ukraine and offer support to pro-Russian politicians and separatists, especially in the Crimea, a majority-Russian speaking peninsula in the Black Sea.

    The Russian leadership and Kremlin strategists believe that there is much at stake in the coming presidential election. Many of these issues are strategic, and after the lukewarm response by the West to the Georgian war and Russian-instigated secession of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Ukraine may be the next target.

    The anti-Ukrainian rhetoric in Moscow resembles the invective against Georgia before and after the last war.

    Ukrainian politicians call the Medvedev’s letter a blatant interference in Kyiv’s internal affairs. The anti-Ukrainian campaign is in synch with Russia’s aspirations to secure the “privileged sphere of interests” President Medvedev called for after the Georgian war and many time since. It surely starts to look like an “strategic information campaign” before a massive political intervention — or worse.

    Moscow has a number of goals in Ukraine. Foremost, Russia is determined to maintain its Black Sea Fleet base in the port of Sevastopol, beyond the expiration of the current naval basing agreement in 2017. Russian tactics to achieve this objective include distribution of Russian passports in Crimea; a campaign to change the procedure of appointing the mayor of Sevastopol, and the loud encouragement of separatism by prominent Russian politicians such as Yuri Luzhkov, the mayor of Moscow, and Konstantin Zatulin, a loudmouth nationalist MP.

    Secondly, Medvedev’s message contained a pointed criticism of the recent EU-Ukraine agreement on pipeline modernization. Ukraine is a key energy transit state for Russia. Around 80 percent of Europe’s gas imports from Russia travel through its pipelines.

    Ukraine’s importance to gas transit will be undermined when Russia finally bypasses it by building Nord Stream pipeline to Germany in the Baltic Sea and possibly the South Stream pipeline across the Black Sea to Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary and Austria.

    Lastly, it is clear that Russia is heavily committed to persuading Ukraine to abandon its road to NATO and the EU. Russia’s information campaign is also focused on defeating support for the European Neighborhood Policy; making Russian the second official language:; and on bringing about a “favorable” result in the presidential elections.

    Russians would like to see Victor Yanukovich as the next president. He is the leader of the Party of Regions, who was defeated in the past by both Yushchenko and (in the parliamentary elections) by Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko.

    Moscow may “swallow” a Timoshenko victory, although the relationship may be a rocky one.

    The danger is that, as Europe and US are asleep at the wheel, Moscow may encourage separatism, seriously destabilize the Crimea or even Eastern Ukraine if one of the candidates fails to concede the elections.

    Ukraine is emerging as a flash point in relations between Russia and the West. 2010 may be the Year of Ukraine — and it may not be a pretty sight.

    The author wants to thank Owen B. Graham, Research Assistant at the Davis Insitute and Khrystyna Kushnir, a Fullbright Scholar from Ukraine, for help preparing of this blog.

    Posted in International [slideshow_deploy]

    12 Responses to Russian Pressure is Growing in Ukraine

    1. Paul, Albany says:

      This piece is sort of true but ignores some basic facts of history, including the close cultural, historical and religious ties between the two. It doesn't mention that Yuschenko (the main driver of anti-Russian policies) has a 7 percent approval rating and that polls have shown an overwhelming majority of Ukrainians WANT closer ties to Russia. Also, the authors ignore some conservatives' argument that the West should help Russia reverse the Soviets, who gave away territory to Ukraine and Kazakhstan an an enticement to join the Soviet Union. I'm not against Ukraine independence but I'll repeat what I said in 1991–it should be smaller. Take it from someone who's studied these issues for more than 30 years now, it would be more logical, and fairer, to help Crimea and parts of eastern Ukraine return to Russia and to help the rest of independent Ukraine achieve a friendlier and more balanced relationship with their Russian cousins.

    2. Michael says:

      Paul, your knowledge of geography seems to be somewhat foggy. Russia did not help Ukraine regain some of its land and did not give Ukraine any of its Russian lands. The eastern part of Ukraine, geographically and with a majority of Ukrainian speaking population, stretched all the way to Rostov on the Don. There are areas in present day Russia and Belorussia that at one time was populated by Ukrainians. Obviously with the massive Russification experienced by Ukrainians during Czarist rule and then when the damned Bolsheviks came to power, many of those people were sent further east and those that remained were forcibly assimilated to Russia. As far as the West is concerned, there are present day Polish towns along the Ukrainian-Polish border that were and still are populated by Ukrainians, my mother was born in Parymyshyl (Pzemyshyl in Polish) and many Ukrainians still live there and it is part of today's Poland. In all honesty Paul learn geography as it should be learned, by knowing the ethnicity of those living in those areas and not by what you have learned in geography books published by those who continue, to this day, push the same all crap.

    3. G-Man, Chesapeake, V says:

      Isn't it likely that the guy shaking President Yushchenko's hand in the photo is the one who had him poisoned during the last election?! I hope he remembers to wash his hand after "glad handing" with Vladimir!


    4. G-Man, Chesapeake, V says:

      …i'm not done opining! This is another reason for America to go after it's own oil resources! If we flood the oil market with American crude we can cause oil prices to go down, thereby limiting the amount of money the Russkies make on oil, which they are using to rebuild their war machine! Drill here, drill now has economic as well as strategic implications. Who knows, maybe we would help relieve pressure on Ukraine!


    5. Ray, Utica says:

      Part of the difficulty people have in European history is

      the tendency to overlook the fact tha borders have shifted

      multiple times and population (especially peasants) have been

      left behind. Look at the map of Greater Lithuania in the 15th

      century. Ukraine was in it. The Crimean Khanate was not.


    6. Peter Borisow, New Y says:

      The struggle to subdue Ukraine goes back to the days of Peter I, who hijacked Ukraine's land, church and history to create the fiction of a "Russian" empire. Even the name "Russia" — "Rossiya" in Russian — is an historical slight of hand, deriving not from the Rus of Kievan Rus, but rather from the Ukrainian word "rossiyane", meaning the scattered ones, as Ukrainians described the hunter-gatherers living to their north. Without Ukraine, Russia is mostly Asian tundra with little manufacturing and an economy based on selling natural resources, something like a frozen emirate with nukes. Of course, Russia will do everything in its power to reconquer Ukraine. If it succeeds, it will again challenge the U.S. world leadership. If it fails, it will fade into the garbage heap of history's failed empires, there to rot in its Stalinistic legacy of genocide, slaughter and state terrorism.

    7. Alex, Columbus, OH says:

      Paul tries to impress us by his 30-years study:Who tought him, what materials he used, is all his knowledge so twisted?

    8. Michael, Boston says:

      Paul, I hope you can get a refund from your studies. Ukraine has attempted – in a fair & balanced way – to redress a decade of oppression and terror under the Soviets. It was a genocide; both of humanity & culture. From the Holodomor to KGB murders as recently as the 80's. I suggest you continue your studies. If Ukraine has offended the tender sensibilities of scum/thugs like Putin & Medvedev, it should earn the support of those in the West, not condemnation. Ukraine & Russia certainly have cultural ties. Ukraine has made every attempt to assimilate their ethnic minorities in a humane & civil manner. Russia, on the other hand, has used violence & war to impose their social (and imperialistic) order. Lastly; you are dead wrong when you say an overwhelming majority support closer ties to Russia. You may be confusing a poll where Ukrainians clearly did not support NATO membership. Please get your facts straight.

    9. Rachel, Seattle says:

      Michael, you wrote: "your knowledge of geography seems to be somewhat foggy. Russia did not help Ukraine regain some of its land and did not give Ukraine any of its Russian lands."

      Incorrect. From the 18th century until 1954, the Crimean peninsula was part of Russia. Khrushchev (a Ukrainian) transferred that territory from the Russian SFSR to the Ukrainian SSR. Previously, Crimea had never been part of Ukraine; before it was part of the Russian empire, it was part of the Ottoman empire.

    10. Lidia, Yaremche, Ukr says:

      Rachel, Michael clearly stated that Russia did not give away its "Russian lands." You yourself point out that Crimea was part of the Ottoman Empire for centuries and as a matter of fact, the peninsula has no contiguous territory to any part of Russia. It's like saying Gibraltar is "English land." Crimea was annexed to the Russian Empire in 1783 and annexed to Ukraine in 1954, making it part of the Russian Empire for a total of only 171 years. Crimea has already been part of Ukraine (with which it is contiguous and whose indigenous people, the Tatars, it has encouraged to return from exile) for nearly a third of that time already (55 years). The Russian-speaking factor in Crimea is strongly influenced by the presence of the Russian fleet in Sevastopol, one of only two major cities on the peninsula. In fact, when I went there to visit an orphanage three years ago, the lady who served me in the local store was Ukrainian from Kalush, the man who rented me my apartment was of Kuban Kozak origins and his grandfather taught him Ukrainian, and the people with whom I visited the orphanage had a classic Kozak family name. I was stunned myself at how non-Russian Sevastopol was in its roots–and by the fact that Moscow has built huge residential projects outside the fleet's base territory, intended for Russian citizens.

      With 70 years of soviet rule and endless aggression on Ukrainian language and culture, it's hardly surprising that so many Ukrainians have caved in and speak Russian when spoken to.

    11. Pingback: Pipeline Threats to Europe? | Conservative Principles Now

    12. Bohdan, NYC says:

      For those who have studied the relationship between Muskovy (aka: Russia) and the rest of the Slavic world, it is not surprising that current politics and policies continue to be expansionist, colonialist, and chauvinist. Historically, any attempt at freedom from Moscow's control has been branded as an attack against our "brothers" from "Mother Russia." True brotherhood means respect of sovereignty and political and economic freedom. Ukrainians have tolerated banning/negation of their language and culture, forced migrations (my father, originally from the Don Basin region, was forced to move to Siberia), attempts at genocide, etc., etc… How much longer will this continue? Why can't Ukraine take its rightful place among the Slavic countries of Eastern Europe? Why should we think that Moscow intends to change its ways after hundreds of years of the same types of policies? We in the west should support Ukraine in its search for and defense of freedom.

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